From Mathlete to Athlete

By Kim Moldofsky

Mathlete to Athlete

My heart sank when my older son took swimming lessons as a toddler, and he practically did too. Swimming lessons were not his thing. A slender boy with barely an ounce of fat to insulate his tender body, he wasn’t a fan of the cold pool at our local high school. And when his teenage instructor tried to convince him to dunk his head underwater? The resulting screams that echoed off the brick-enclosed pool deck were reminiscent of medieval torture chambers.

My husband and I consider swimming to be a critical life skill, but I wondered if my tough-love approach would pay off or simply lead to us paying large therapy bills down the road.

Fast-forward a decade and my son, a freshman in high school and still small compared to his peers, came home one chilly, dark November evening and announced his intention to join the swim team. He was a top-scoring mathlete and burgeoning computer programmer, and we were taken aback by his sporty pronouncement.

I might have done a spit-take.

“You want to join an athletic team that meets in the pool hours before the sun rises?” I asked incredulously.

I want to tell you how my husband and I rallied to support him, but the truth, is we were skeptical. He struggled to make it out the door to the school bus most mornings at 7:20. How on earth was he going to get up nearly two hours earlier to make it to the school pool by 6 a.m.?

And since when did he like swimming? Or exercise?

The freshman team is often open to all, and we wanted him to have at least one sport on his transcript in the name of looking “well-rounded” to colleges, whatever that means. My husband volunteered to do the early morning drive on the condition that my son would get out of bed without having to be begged, bribed or otherwise cajoled.

When it came to the pricey goggles and competitive-grade swimsuit, we decided our boy needed a bit more skin in the game than what he would show in the pool. Worried he’d throw in the towel after a week or two of grueling practice, we took money from my son’s bank account with the agreement that he’d earn a portion of the money back for each week he stuck with the team.

As it turns out, he earned more than his money back by the end of the season. My husband and I had a new level of respect for our son’s ability to choose new, if unexpected, goals on his own and to work hard to meet them. Not only that, he walked away from swim team with solid biceps and six-pack abs. Oh, and he finished the season with bleached-blond hair thanks to a team ritual (I relaxed once I realized it was indeed a team thing, not freshman hazing), another bold and surprising move on his part.

Even better still, his role on the swim team lead to a summer job … teaching swimming to toddlers in the cold pool at our local high school.

What goals have your children set for themselves that took you by surprise?